Communist rule ended violently and abruptly in Romania in 1989, but in the 1990s a protracted and incomplete transition from that social system has occurred. Romania thus stands apart from Central European states with whom it prefers to be grouped and even with several in South-East Europe (SEE) or the Balkans, the geographical category into which international observers and many ordinary Romanian citizens feel Romania best fits. 1
Until the 1996 election victory of centre-right reformers, Romania experienced a transition from communist rule controlled by second-ranking members of the old regime; until the mid-1990s, when at last it appeared possible that they could be peacefully substituted in office, they were widely seen as reluctant democrats wedded to illiberal practices, with a near-monopolistic approach to political power.
The situation appeared recognizable to scholars familiar with Romania's long-term political evolution. In the past imported ideologies have been modified and drained of their reformist content to suit local elite requirements. 2 This has led to huge discrepancies between constitutional forms and actual practices. Since Romanian independence in 1881, rhetoric about reform has often been a screen enabling a narrow oligarchy, whether aristocratic, mercantile, communist, or post-communist to pursue self-serving policies